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Emojis Increasing The Risk Of Sexual Harassment Complaints

Emojis increasing the risk of sexual harassment complaints

No longer just a fun fad, emojis are now considered a legitimate form of communication, increasing the risk of sexual harassment claims against workers if meanings and intentions of emojis are misunderstood.

Emojis are pictures of emotions and objects and are available on nearly every device and social media platform.

But like all forms of communication, emojis can be confusing, or contain double meanings – just ask actor David Tennant.

Former Doctor Who star David Tennant.

The former Doctor Who star didn’t know what the eggplant emoji meant, and found out the hard way during sexual harassment training.

While watching a video during the session, Tennant made the shocking discovery that the eggplant is actually a penis in emoji world.

The eggplant emoji is a penis in emoji world.

Speaking of the training film Tennant explained, “Remember, the eggplant emoji is not just an eggplant.”

“And that was it,” he added. “No explanation, just that. I went, ‘WHAT?'”

“I mean, imagine I was just saying, ‘Do you want some eggplant for dinner?’ and suddenly I am up against a tribunal. Now I am terrified!”

We’re not sure if he knows what the meaning of a peach is in emoji world.

Intentions are not always clear with emojis

The double meanings of many emojis are only part of the problem, according to James Vercoe from Discrimination Claims.

“In many instances, it may not be clear what the intention of the sender is when they send a particular emoji,” he said.

“For example, if a female worker who is being constantly harassed by her boss to go out for drinks at an interstate conference, politely declines with a smiley face emoji, does that mean she is not offended or annoyed, and could that be used against her in a subsequent claim for sexual harassment?”

Geoffrey Rush asked to explain ‘panting’ tongue

Recently, actor Geoffrey Rush was asked to explain what he meant by sending a “panting” tongue emoji to actress Eryn Norvill saying he had been thinking of her “more than is socially appropriate”.

The text sent by Geoffrey Rush with the panting tongue emoji.

Rush was being cross examined in his defamation trial against The Daily Telegraph newspaper after it published allegations of inappropriate conduct during the stage production of King Lear.

The 67 year-old Oscar winner denied he was “testing the water” to see what kind of response he would receive from her.

The Daily Telegraph’s barrister Tom Blackburn, SC, asked Mr Rush if his text message meant he was “habitually thinking of Ms Norvill more than socially appropriate”.

Mr Rush said: “No I wasn’t. It’s a throwaway line, it’s actually a joke, modestly in the style of Groucho Marx? … It’s a very flip excuse for not being in touch enough, sooner.”

He said he would have used a Groucho Marx emoji but the range of emojis was limited. However he “was able to send the entire story of King Lear in 45 emojis” to a colleague.

Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush was asked to explain a panting tongue emoji.

The bottom line

Can you lose your job sending emojis? – The answer is yes, according to Mr Vercoe.

“Just like all other forms of communication, you can be sacked for sending the wrong emoji,” he said.

“You should always steer clear of anything of a sexual nature, so that means no eggplants or peaches or ‘panting’ tongues, and never send anything that suggests any form of violence, like a gun or a bomb or a clenched fist.

“Also be aware of making any suggestions of a racist nature, so be careful when sending faces and bodies that are different in colour.”

Mr Vercoe warned that even if you think a message containing an emoji is fun, or a joke, it might not be taken that way by the person receiving it.

“Sexual harassment is determined by how the person receiving the message takes it, so if you’re not certain how they’re going to take it, then don’t send it.”


Go deeper

READ MORE:  What is sexual harassment

RELATED STORY:  Your boss is watching your social media, and he can sack you for it

RELATED STORY:  Sexual harassment can happen outside the workplace


If you have experienced sexual harassment, you may be entitled to compensation.

Please call Discrimination Claims today on 

1300 853 837

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